Less than a week ago, Guillermo Del Toro announced to Deadline that we are taking Pinocchio out to the studios. If you haven't been exposed to this announcement, you can read it here:
Since then, this news has begun to unwind like a jiving mummy on the dance floor. Film sites including horror, geek and general Hollywood enthusiast websites have done spin-offs from the original article. The problem is that much of the information is becoming misleading, confusing and misconstrued.
It's not possible to clear things up at this time and I understand that this is common in the press. When the film gets a greenlight, Co-Director Mark Gustafson and I will have the opportunity to tell our stories (which will most likely turn out misleading, confusing and misconstrued). I just want to make things clear to my fans that are just finding this out or have been following the story all along.
I came up with the idea to make Pinocchio into a stop motion film about seven or eight years ago. A group of friends and I started to put together a little development to present the idea to studios. At the time I had no interest in directing and one of my choices was to ask Guillermo Del Toro if he would be interested.
As fate would have it, I received a call from a gallery that was selling artwork from my Pinocchio book. They relayed to me that Guillermo Del Toro was just in the gallery and purchased a piece of Pinocchio art. I said "You have to be kidding me! Can you set up a lunch with him?" They did. And in a couple days I was eating giant shrimp the size of rats (heads and all) across from GDT while presenting him my film.
This was before the first Hellboy movie came out (so a long time ago). I told him I wanted to make Pinocchio into a crude stop motion film much like my eastern European influences. Jan Svankmajer is one of my favorite filmmakers. If you are familiar with his work or that of the Quay Brothers, you can somewhat see how I envision Pinocchio. I told him about the color palette, tone and texture the film would have. Then I asked him if he would direct it. But due to my enthusiasm and vision for the film, he could see that i didn't need a director...I needed a producer.
He said he would produce it. Shortly after that, I was called into the Jim Henson company to meet with a producer there, only to find out that they were interested in turning my Pinocchio book into a film as well. I said, "That's funny. I just met with Guillermo Del Toro about the same thing and he's interested in producing it.
Things moved slowly for years, but moved nonetheless. I was working with another animation Director, Adam Parish King and a few writers at the time. But it was about two years ago that things really moved along. Guillermo wasn't happy with the treatments that he read. He didn't feel that they captured the true nature of the book. And after meeting with him, I agreed. He brought on a writer, Matthew Robbins, whom he has worked with before. This ended up being the wedge that got us back on track.
In the spring of 2010, three things happened. First, I went to New Zealand to work with GDT and Matthew on the treatment. This was a rough week, but through a couple arguments, we created a springboard for the script. Secondly, I was teamed up with an experienced animation director, who would direct along side with me. This was Mark Gustafson who worked on Fantastic Mr. Fox. The two of us got along great (for a couple of cynical old bats) and shared a cohesive vision. Third (and most importantly) we received a development deal from French Studio, Pathe.
This development money was used to build a team of artists and place them on the Jim Henson Company lot. With Mark and my direction, they developed the look of the film during three months of the summer. I was not (nor am I) the ART DIRECTOR.
Art directors are extremely informative and particular people. I had the pleasure of working with an amazing one on Pinocchio, Eliza Chaikin Kenan, who was always bringing me reference material for wardrobe and sets fitting the period of the film. She was always challenging my vision. I didn't always come to agree with her, but she was always pushing me to think outside my box and try new things. She was amazing and helped make Pinocchio visually better than Mark or I could have alone.
Although the look of the film is based on my artwork, I am not working in the design department. I can modestly say I am not talented enough. I had the pleasure to work with 6 or so young conceptual designers who never ceased to blow me away by their abilities. Also, I have complete trust in my lead character designer, Huy Vu, who has the ability to think like I do. I would do the occasional sketch or two to present to the team to get an idea or style across. But so would Mark. Even though I am not on the development team, when it is all complete, the film will look like a Gris Grimly book come to life.
In Guillermo's defense...don't worry about him taking on too many projects. He is not directing this film. He has mentioned to me plenty of times that he is wearing the producer hat on this project and will participate as much or little as I need him. When Pinocchio gets greenlit, Mark and I will go to Europe to direct it and Guillermo will work on his own projects (Haunted Mansion, Mountains of Madness...etc). Pinocchio is not waiting for anything and will go into production immediately. We are thinking this could happen this summer.
I knew, going into this, that working with a big name like GDT would be challenging. I am a hard worker who came from nothing. My achievements and diligent work have won me the credit that I've earned. I know that I'm going to have to shine extra bright and work extra hard to maintain this praise. But I would rather be a small fish in a big pond with room to grow than where I was. I'm fully ready for the challenge.
GDT has been like a big brother and mentor on this project. None of this would be happening if it weren't for him. Many young filmmakers would kill for the opportunity that I've been granted. Maybe they deserve it more. I never went to film school. I haven't worked my way up from the mail room. I haven't invested a lot of time and money into film projects and festivals in hopes to be discovered. I am just a man with a vision and the work ethics to make it happen. Fate has been on my side and in the interest of Pinocchio. I threw the die...and they landed in my favor.
That's showbiz...I guess.